WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Thursday called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess whether the Trump administration has hidden material from the American public by over-classifying information that is not actually legally classifiable or is being classified only to hide embarrassing or politically damaging information. In a letter to the Comptroller General of the United States Gene Dodaro, Murphy specifically requested a comparative review of documents to ensure classification level is consistent with the nature of material held in the executive branch.
“My firm belief is that the Trump administration has regularly abused classification rules to hide information from the public. This is an unacceptable and unconstitutional political tactic,” said Murphy. “I’ve asked the GAO to conduct a review of the classified material in the Senate to make sure it’s not overly or unnecessarily classified. We’ve seen the administration classify information just for political purposes recently and the American people deserve better. I look forward to GAO’s findings.”
Murphy has called out the White House for classifying important documents sent to Congress for political purposes over the last few months. This includes, but is not limited to, the transcript of the July 25th call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky, the document regarding Vice President Mike Pence’s September 18th call with Zelensky, and the War Powers justification for the killing of IRGC Commander Qasem Soleimani.
A full text of the letter can be found here and below.
February 6, 2020
The Honorable Gene Dodaro
Comptroller General of the United States
Government Accountability Office
441 G Street NW
Washington DC 20508
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
Protecting United States Classified National Security Information is of paramount concern for all individuals entrusted with the safety and security of our country. As cyber and espionage threats to our classified systems become more complex, maintaining the integrity of the classification process remains more important than ever. However, the organization responsible for overseeing executive branch policies for managing this information, the National Archives and Records Administration's Information Security Oversight Office, reports that the current system for managing such information "relies on antiquated policies from another era that undercut its effectiveness today." Critical to this process is ensuring that finished intelligence and national security information provided to the Congress is appropriately aligned to the classification of the original source information.
The United States Senate Office of Senate Security is in possession of a number of classified documents provided by executive branch departments and agencies. Much of this information appears to be marked at classification levels that are properly aligned with the nature of the information contained in them. However, some documents contain information that is classified at a level that appears inconsistent with the nature of the material. It is critical to ensure that information provided to the Congress is properly classified, when it must be classified at all.
I request that GAO compare a sample of classified documents held by the Office of Senate Security to the original classified versions and underlying source materials held by the respective executive branch departments and agencies to determine the extent to which the classification levels are the same. I also request that GAO determine whether there is an existing process available to a Member of Congress seeking to challenge the classification status of information.
Thank you for your assistance in this matter and I look forward to hearing the results.
Christopher S. Murphy
United States Senator